Round 7 – Sydney Motorsports Park
Looking back on ASBK 2019 ahead of the SMP finale
By Chris Plumridge and TH
We are down to the wire! After six breath-taking rounds, the final instalment of the 2019 Motul Pirelli Australian Superbike Championship season takes place at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend. A venue that has seen many championships decided over the years.
In a dream scenario for the fans, 51-points are up for grabs, with six riders sitting under that magical margin between themselves and the championship. It’s looking like becoming a superb end to an epic season of close, hard-fought racing.
“But help!” you might say. “I’ve been living (under a rock/in the Amazon/on the Moon) and haven’t been watching the ASBK (this year/since the 90s/ever) because I’ve been too busy watching (MotoGP/Supercars/Reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway). How do I get up to speed?”
Well, shame on you, dear reader, but never fear! With so much action from the previous six rounds, I think even the most seasoned fan still needs some time to sit back and recap.
The current state of play is thus: Six rounds down and only one to go. Six riders with a mathematical chance of taking the chocolates, five of them previous ASBK champions, representing five different manufacturers.
Penrite Honda’s Troy Herfoss is the current points leader, defending champ, and coming off a momentum-boosting victory in the single non-championship Aussie Superbike hit-out at the Phillip Island MotoGP on the weekend, so he’s looking good.
Team Suzuki Ecstar Australia’s Wayne Maxwell sits second, having returned to the factory Suzuki from Yamaha for 2019: he won the championship for Suzuki in 2013 and will be looking to repeat that success.
Desmosport Ducati’s Mike Jones returned to the ASBK full-time in 2019, ostensibly as an injury replacement for Troy Bayliss, but the 25-year-old quickly became a championship contender in his own right. Fiercely competitive right from the season opener on a borrowed privateer Kawasaki he has rewarded the faith put in him by DesmoSport Ducati in spades. Jones has also won an Australian Superbike Championship before, but in that 2015 season competition was thin, with Jones sometimes taking pole by two-second, as most of Australia’s best were racing in a rival series. This season things are different, all the best riders are racing in ASBK and the competition has never been more closely and hotly contested. The Queenslander will be hungry to make 2019 his year.
Those guys find themselves in the box seat for the title, which would be a tantalising prospect if it was just a three-way fight in the final round. But there’s one more factor at play to ensure this weekend’s decider will be downright unmissable: weather. The Bureau has predicted hot, sticky and very wet conditions to hit Western Sydney just as the ASBK hits the business end of the two-race schedule planned for this weekend. It wouldn’t take much in those stormy conditions, for one or more of the top riders to suffer a DNF that would then invite one of the outside contenders to steal the championship at the final juncture… Stranger things have happened…
Eastern Creek SMP Weather Forecast
Chief among those looking to upset the party is Yamaha Racing Team’s Cru Halliday. The YRT man led the championship for much of the series this year despite not having won a race, thanks to metronomic consistency and his ability to keep it rubber-side down when his rivals couldn’t. But his only crash of 2019 came at the worst possible time, meaning Cru will have to rely on some bad luck striking the top three to have a real shot at championship glory.
2012 champ, Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Josh Waters has been close but no cigar all year. While struggling to match the pace demonstrated by team-mate Maxwell, the 32-year-old from Mildura has still been scoring good results and steadily building a championship points total that still sees him in with a chance of becoming the first rider in history to claim four Australian Superbike Championship victories…
And don’t factor out Bryan Staring. His Dunlop-shod BCperformance Kawasaki is the hot ticket when the Pirelli runners start to search for grip, particularly in hot conditions, and we are in for some hot conditions this weekend. The Western Australian is fitter than ever and is always hungry for results. If he has the prime set-up at SMP this weekend he will be a factor in the championship. He is also a previous Australian Superbike Champion, not only in Superbike, but also in Australian Supersport and Australian 125 Grand Prix.
With so much action through 2019, and even more coming in 2020, including a planned round alongside the Virgin Australia Supercars in Perth, now’s the time to jump on the bandwagon and act like you knew all about ASBK before it was cool. Got it? Good.
Now you’re up to speed, let’s take a moment, new fans and hard-core ones alike, to recap and catch up on the six rounds leading up to the 2019 title decider.
Round 1: Phillip Island World SBK
Maxwell vs. Wagner
If the Aussie Superbike fans could have crafted the perfect opening round of the 2019 season, even they wouldn’t have dreamed of the excitement that Round 1 of the ASBK provided. Close racing action that put counterparts from the Superbike World Championship to shame got the crowds on their feet and would best be summed up in three words: Maxwell vs. Wagner.
Both racers began the season with something to prove. Aiden Wagner (Landbridge Racing Yamaha) returned to the ASBK from World Supersport to play the Great Aussie Privateer Battler against the factory teams. While veteran Maxwell had made the return to Suzuki after a stint with Yamaha. Maxwell and Wagner topped the timesheets at the Island in testing and qualifying respectively, setting the scene for something special as the races got underway.
Wagner looked set for a fairy-tale pole-to-flag victory in Race 1, only to be denied by a false neutral in the very last corner that let a fast-closing Maxwell slip through and claim the race by a hair.
With positions reversed in Race 2 later that afternoon and Maxwell leading Wagner into the final turn, the second-placed privateer wasn’t going to let this one slip away as well. Maxwell tried to defend the apex, Wagner came through anyway, there was a touch and down Maxwell went – sending him cartwheeling into the gravel and out of the race, while Wagner went on to claim a controversial victory.
The highlight reels ended with Maxwell striding up to Parc Ferme and reminding the victorious Wagner: “I’ve got a long memory…”. What a start to the year!
Round 2: Wakefield Park
Herfoss untouchable in his home town.
Defending ASBK champion Troy Herfoss returned to his winning ways at Wakefield after a difficult weekend at Phillip Island where he had combined ASBK with World Superbike wild-card duties. There were no such worries at the Southern NSW circuit; the Goulburn native’s only concern was the number of locals looking to wish him well as they cheered for their hometown hero.
Round One winner Wagner’s season looked to be over in practice thanks to a shoulder injury incurred when he crashed trying to avoid slow riders exiting the pits. One 2019 story-line ended before it had really begun.
Herfoss didn’t disappoint the partisan crowd, taking both races despite challenges from Maxwell and Yamaha Racing Team’s Cru Halliday. A red-flag affected Race 2 didn’t provide the battle that the early action had promised, but the local boy’s clean-sweep still ensured the record crowds went home happy.
Round 3: The Bend
Where did that Kawasaki come from?
ASBK joined the Asia Road Racing Championship at Tailem Bend for Round 3 for another international double-header. Kawasaki BCperformance’s Bryan Staring was in for a busy weekend, pinch-hitting in the ARRC for Kawasaki Team Thailand in addition to his commitments with the ASBK. Eyes were on Staring as a litmus test for the quality of the Australian domestic series – would he be able to keep pace with the best of Asia?
Word in the pits early in the weekend hinted that the usually ultra-quick Pirelli tyres were not coping with the highly abrasive Bend tarmac, and that the more conservative Dunlops would likely be the tyres to be on come the closing laps on race day. This presented a problem for most competitors, who struggled to get their tyres to last the distance, but not for the only Dunlop-shod team in the ASBK paddock: Kawasaki BCperformance.
Not only did Staring and his crew clean-sweep the three ASBK races, but they helped their counterparts at Kawasaki Team Thailand to a win and a second place in the two ARRC races as well.
The stellar performance meant Staring shot to the lead of the ASBK championship and picked up a couple more Asia Road Racing appearances for the following rounds in Thailand and Suzuka with his new Thai best friends.
Round 4: Morgan Park
Maxwell comes good.
The ASBK headed North for the winter to Queensland’s Morgan Park for the championship’s biggest round in terms of spectator numbers providing a great atmosphere for teams and fans alike.
The “MAD MIKE JONES #46” banner draped across the approach to Turn 3 left no room for misunderstanding that the locals were cheering for a Queensland winner.
Jones himself took pole position and Race 1 by 2.1 seconds, but it wasn’t his most impressive performance of the weekend. That was reserved for Race 2 where Jones put on an overtaking masterclass after a rare mistake on Lap 1. Jones seemed to out-brake himself, running through the grass and resuming the race at the back of the field, leaving him scything his way through the field on the Ducati as he sought to pull a decent race result (and the championship lead) out of the fire. Maxwell won that second race ahead of Herfoss, but Jones did enough to get the dusty Ducati to a well-deserved podium position.
Jones left home turf leading the championship by a paltry three points, with five manufacturers in the top five positions as the championship really hotted up.
Round 5 Winton
Is that rain?
Controversy reigned (or should that be rained?) supreme once again at Winton, where after a weekend full of variable conditions it would be the North-Eastern Victorian weather that had the final say.
Wayne Maxwell took out Race 1 ahead of polesitter and championship leader Jones, with Troy Herfoss recovering from a pair of crashes early in the weekend to secure the final podium position after starting twelfth.
A frustrating sequence of start, crash, red flag, start, crash, red flag saw the race reduced to ten laps as the skies threatened and the race was declared wet- though as the field took to their second full race re-start slicks were still the sensible option. Jones and Maxwell looked to gap the field on the opening few laps before the rain finally set in and the leaders put their hands up- judging the track too damp for slicks.
Herfoss clearly didn’t think so, charging past Jones and Maxwell to take what he thought was the lead- only to see the race red-flagged for the third and final time.
The results were taken back to the previous lap, leaving Jones the winner ahead of Maxwell with Herfoss in third and furious at the decision. Half points were awarded for Race 2, meaning Maxwell retained the round victory and Jones retained the championship lead.
Round 6: Phillip Island
The game changes once again
The championship returned to the Island for the second time this season, however with Wagner still recovering from shoulder surgery there would be no repeat of the first-round head-to-head.
But perhaps more enticingly, Jones, Herfoss and Maxwell put on a three-way battle for victory throughout the weekend, the Honda rider overcoming some poor form at the Island of late to take the battle right up to the Suzuki and Ducati.
If it’s possible for a competition to get more unpredictable, then it did at the Island. Cru Halliday, despite not having won a race in 2019 was second in the championship thanks to metronomically consistent good results. But one misjudgement while passing team-mate Daniel Falzon at MG was all it took to near-ruin a season’s worth of good work: his only DNF for 2019 bumping him back down to fourth.
Maxwell took Race 1 ahead of Herfoss and Jones, but the biggest news story of the weekend was yet to come. Jones, Maxwell and Herfoss were having a ding-dong battle at the front of the field and at just over half-distance the race was looking like an all-time classic. But Maxwell and Jones touched coming through Honda corner, Jones crashed out and crashed straight back to third in the championship chase.
Suddenly Herfoss, who got the better of Maxwell in a nail-biter by just shy of three-hundredths-of-a-second, was leading the championship and is now in the box seat to defend his title at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Round 7 Sydney Motorsport Park
You could probably write a stack of headlines on little slips of paper, throw them into a hat, pick one out and you’d have as good a chance as any of predicting what we’ll be talking about on the Monday after the finale…. Herfoss successfully defends ASBK Title. Maxwell Wins on Suzuki Return. Jones and Ducati On Top. Maybe something else? All we know is that our Aussie Superbikes are providing some of the best motorcycle racing on the planet right now, and you’d be a fool to miss what’s left to come in 2019.
Australian Superbike Standings
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Australian Supersport Standings